Now 2-0 and with a significant hurdle overcome, the Ohio State Buckeyes now shift their attention to the Rutgers Scarlet Knights (1-1), who are now led by former Buckeye assistant coach Greg Schiano.
On Tuesday, Ohio State head coach Ryan Day met with the media to offer his final thoughts on the win over Penn State, while also previewing what to expect from Rutgers on Saturday.
“It’s no surprise you can already see how well things are going at Rutgers, how that team looks, and I think he’s going to build something really good there,” Day said of Schiano, adding that players on both sides of the ball are playing hard for their new head coach, but Schiano has also been able to add some talent to the roster via transfer.
“You can already see the impact that he and his staff are having,” Day said. “Even this week, we have to make sure that we’re on top of our game. This team would want nothing more than to come in and get this game into the fourth quarter, so we have to do a great job of recognizing the challenge they provide in all three phases and playing as fast as we possibly can. We have to continue to play like we did in the Penn State game —physical, with energy, and fast.”
Day said the message this week has been focused on how the Buckeyes can get better in every aspect in order to continue taking steps toward being great, a level at which he said the team has not yet reached.
“How can we practice better? How can we coach better? How can we teach better? How can we listen better? How can we protect ourselves against this virus better? How can we sleep and eat better? Everything has to be better,” he said. “If we want to be great, that’s what we have to focus on. If we just want to be another team, then just continue doing what we’re doing.
“But if we want to be great, we have to clean all of these things up, and we have to get better in all of those areas. And if we add all of that up at the end of the week, we’ll keep growing to get better.”
With Penn State now in the rearview, Ohio State is in the midst of a stretch where they will be heavy favorites in every game they play with the possible exception of the regular-season finale against Michigan. Asked how he prevents his team from letting its guard down in the absence of marquee matchups, Day said it’s simply a matter of what the team wants to achieve this season, which will be reflected in their approach to each and every week, regardless of the opponent.
“If we’re chasing greatness, if that’s what we really want to be, then every day we should be going after this thing at 100 miles per hour,” Day said. “It doesn’t matter who we’re playing. It shouldn’t matter. It’s more about us.
“That’s what we’re chasing right now, but we’re not there. We’re not close, so we have to prove it … hopefully, we get close at some point. But right now, we have a long way to go, and every time you get out there on Saturday, it’s an opportunity to show the nation that we’re close to being great. But we’re on a journey right now, and we’re not great right now.”
Aside from winning the game, every coach’s top priority is getting through a game healthy. That wasn’t the case for Day and the Buckeyes on Saturday night in Happy Valley, however, having lost tight end Luke Farrell for an undisclosed amount of time and cornerback Cam Brown for the season with an Achilles injury. In a secondary already looking to identify playmakers, Brown’s absence could loom large moving forward.
“It’s very costly,” Day said of the injury to Brown. “Cam came with experience this season in a position we couldn’t afford to lose anyone. So, to lose Cam, it’s a significant hit … we really feel bad for Cam and his family.”
Asked who will need to step up in the absence of Brown, Day singled out redshirt sophomore Tyreke Johnson and true freshman Ryan Watts as two guys that need to be ready to go. He added that Marcus Williamson, who has started as the slot corner through Ohio State’s first two games, will need to do some “cross work” to be ready to go should he be needed on the outside.
“Those guys are going to have to step up in a big way,” Day said. “Some of the younger guys — Cam Martinez — we’re going to have to get those guys ready in order to play with some depth.”
True freshman Lathan Ransom received playing time late in the game against Penn State, and Day said Ransom is a young player who is making a push for some more playing time.
“He’s a younger guy who is really starting to come on, and hopefully we can get some really good play out of him as we get toward the middle of November and early December,” he said.
Defensively, it was a tale of two halves for Ohio State on Saturday. After turning in a dominant first-half performance against Penn State, the Buckeyes conceded three touchdown drives of at least 75 yards in the second half. In particular, the secondary struggled over the final two quarters against a Penn State offense forced to try to throw the ball early and often in order to try to close the gap.
Day said some of the second-half success Penn State found through the air boiled down to a great player in Lions receiver Jahan Dotson making two great catches on long pass plays, which skewed the final statistics a bit. Overall, he said he felt both Shaun Wade and Sevyn Banks have played well as the starting corners, and receivers making great plays against them is just part of playing the cornerback position.
“I think the two catches by Dotson, Shaun (Wade) was right there on both of those plays,” Day said. “The kid just made tremendous plays, and that was a bunch of offense … if that doesn’t happen, the numbers aren’t as strong, I don’t think.”
In addition to secondary, the defensive line had plenty of questions to answer simply due to the amount of talent that left it from a year ago. While the unit played a solid if not spectacular game in the opener against Nebraska, they wreaked havoc early and often against Penn State in a performance that was much more in line with the standard that has been set at Ohio State.
“One of the concerns going in was the interior defensive line with losing guys like Chase Young on the outside and Davon Hamilton, so to see those guys play the way they did, that was big,” Day said. “I felt we really played well on both sides of the ball up front. The defensive line really created a lot of disruption, and that was the difference, I think, in the game defensively.”
During his postgame press conference on Saturday, Day immediately pinpointed his team’s physicality as one of the things he was most pleased with. On Tuesday, he said watching the game film only solidified his pleasure with how physical the Buckeyes played.
“I thought the physicality, in watching (the film), and how hard we played was excellent,” Day said. “Even more so watching the film, I thought our running backs ran hard. I thought on defense we ran to the ball, we tackled, we hit hard. Our defensive line created a lot of disruption.”
Of course, no coach is going to come away from watching game film without any areas that need to be better. Day said there were several areas that the Buckeyes need to clean up, including “silly” penalties, the bad snap by Josh Myers, and missed field goals that Day said were “just ridiculous.”
Day said the status of Blake Haubeil, who missed a short field goal on Saturday before leaving the game with a preexisting groin injury, is “day to day.” Should Haubeil miss more time, Day said true freshman Jake Seibert could be in the mix to handle the kicking duties, saying Seibert “came here for a reason.”
Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.